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Young leaders can affect global change

The opportunities these young people have—and the choices that they make—will profoundly influence current events and our collective future.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2008 01:21 IST

Most societies of the world today devote vast amounts of attention to the virtues of being young. Our preoccupation with youthfulness extends into nearly all aspects of contemporary life – from health to fashion, entertainment to sports.

In the world of business, youthful entrepreneurship is legendary. Take, for example, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who in their 20s wrote the computer code that would become Google. They join a long line of business leaders that made their mark when they were young, including Bill Gates (founded Microsoft at 20) and Steve Jobs (founded Apple at 21).

But, little attention has been paid to their role as agents of social change. A growing number of young people play important roles in developing lasting solutions to problems.

Consider the pioneering efforts Abhishek Bharadwaj in Mumbai. When he finished his Masters degree in Social Studies, Abhishek didn’t look for a job; rather he spent time with homeless. This motivated Abhishek to establish Alternative Realities, an organization that provides livelihood opportunities and improves health care access for the homeless, conducts advocacy, and educates the public through media campaigns. Alternative Realities has reached more than 50,000 homeless citizens.

One factor propelling today’s global youth movement is sheer demographic momentum. Roughly half the world’s population is under the age of 24, with 1.2 billion youth (ages 15-24) entering the transition to adulthood.

Further contributing to the growing role of youth is the proliferation of today’s mass media. Connected via social networking websites etc., young people are mobilizing their peers to vote and take action.

When he was 23, American dental student Neilesh Patel was looking to volunteer his medical know-how abroad. In the absence of useful resources, he co-founded HealthCare Volunteer in 2005. Through this free web-based service, over 12,000 professionals have connected with volunteer opportunities — providing free surgeries, dental care, and other services to those in need.

Our survey of young social innovators around the world revealed that the number one skill they seek to develop is how to develop business plans. Gone are the days when business and social change were viewed as competing forces. These young leaders are using business skills to reap social benefits.

Examples abound of successful partnerships between young social innovators and businesses, nonprofits, academia, media and government. A key to Alternative Realities approach is building coalitions among diverse sectors—NGOs, municipal authorities, law enforcement, hospitals, churches, and academic institutions.

These young leaders are distinguished by their ‘can do’ attitudes. The opportunities these young people have—and the choices that they make—will profoundly influence current events and our collective future.

An initiative of Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation, Schwab Foundation in collaboration with UNDP and Hindustan Times.